Jim and Pam. Leslie and Ben. Mulder and Scully. Mindy and Danny. Meredith and Derek—actually, pretty much everyone on every Shondaland show. A lot of TV's most beloved couples met in the office, even if, in reality, workplace romances are still somewhat taboo. According to one survey, around 17.5 percent of couples met at work, beating out social media and online dating combined. Since proximity is the single biggest predictor of falling in love with someone, and we spend more than a third of our waking life in the office, it’s not surprising that some coworkers catch feelings for each other. Historically though, we’ve been pretty bad at parsing out what is and is not appropriate romantic behavior on the job (watch an episode of Mad Men at random if you have any questions). Even monogamous, serious relationships can breed drama and distraction, all of which are generally antithetical to professionalism, but clearly that isn’t stopping us.
One reason dating a coworker appeals to a lot of folks is that you often have the same interests and social circles. My boyfriend and I, having gone to film school together, are genuinely terrible people to watch movies with (we ruined a Zootopia viewing with our friends once), but we bond over ripping into bad third acts and poor character development together. A civil engineer doesn’t have to spend time explaining to someone like me what a “plasticity truss model” is if they just date another civil engineer.
The flip side, of course, is all that sameness between work and non-work can be a little monotonous. If a civil engineer talks about imposed deformation for eight hours a day at the office, and they come home and their partner wants to talk about imposed deformation again, that’s a whole lot of chatting about imposed deformation. When I was studying film, one professor told us her best advice was to marry someone from the dentistry school with which we shared a coffee stand. Why? Two reasons. For one, you’d always have health insurance. And two, that being a dentist would be so boring, and quiet, due to the whole silent patients thing, that when you guys talked after work, anything you said would seem brilliant. And filmmakers love feeling brilliant. The only downside is you have to be willing to sit through conversations about root canals as reciprocation.
Now, office romances don’t spring up exclusively as a result of common interests. A lot of adults are simply meeting most of the new people in their lives at work, so naturally colleagues become part of the dating pool. Short of marriage, four in ten people report having dated a coworker before, and 17 percent say they’ve done it at least twice.
Many companies have formalized rules about dating people within your actual workplace, and in general, HR policies are getting stricter in light of #MeToo. Some internal policies require you to self-report consensual romantic relationships to HR, although many people decline to actually do so. If you don't actually work directly with your office boo, it may not be necessary, but if there's a chance your relationship could be found out later on, it's probably in your best interest to be upfront about it. While there’s nothing inherently wrong about sleeping with a person who works with you, there’s potential for things to get sloppier than a preseason Knicks game. Sleeping with your subordinate or superior at work is always inappropriate at the very best, and abusive at worst. In fact, this is really the golden rule of dating coworkers: date people on your own level. Bonus points if you sleep with someone outside of your department. Distance makes the heart grow less complicated.
Even the healthiest intra-office relationships—where everything is above board and there’s no questionable power dynamics at play—can struggle under the weight of office politics. One person I spoke to, Natalie, who's dating a coworker, explained that for her, the hardest part was dealing with everyone else’s opinions about the relationship. “Our coworkers knew us both so well, and working in a restaurant you definitely see people at their worst, so there were people who didn't approve of him for me and people who didn't approve of me for him.”
Like Natalie said, an interoffice affair can affect how others think about you, and those negative perceptions are not felt equally. One study showed that most employees frown upon coworker hookups, and that the brunt of their negative perception falls on women involved. Being in an office romance can make you appear less productive, especially if other people catch you and your partner being flirty on company time, even if everyone else spends half the day watching videos of cats playing piano on their phone. Much like the idea of living with a couple, a big part of the discomfort around coworkers dating is the fear that should shit hit the fan, you—an innocent bystander—might get dragged into their drama.
In general, you'll need to be careful how much information about your relationship you share with your coworkers—even your buds. While you might be used to spilling details of your sex life during happy hour, that is No Longer Appropriate At All because those people still have to work with your partner. The number of people who are open with coworkers about their workplace romances is on the rise, with 72 percent of people saying they don’t feel the need to hide their love, compared with 46 percent of participants just five years ago, suggesting that attitudes in general are relaxing, but don’t mistake people being okay with your love for wanting to be a party to it.
Otherwise, unless you’ve explicitly told your coworkers, no one at work should be able to tell that you two are dating while you’re on the clock. Yeah, they might harbor suspicions as to why you constantly stuff yourself with Fran’s terrible lemon bars, but your actions shouldn’t confirm their impressions. Don’t flirt at work, especially on any company-monitored messaging systems, and obviously any form of PDA is a no-go too. And definitely, definitely, don’t involve others in the ups and downs of your relationship, which has the potential to harm their standing within the company. Even though it might be tempting to sneak off to the copy room, wait to canoodle until 5 p.m. like everyone else.
Originally Appeared on GQ